Supported By Research

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Roughly 25 schools in AR are in a pilot program by the State Dept. of Education that’s testing out longer recess-from 30 minutes a day to one hour.  Teacher Jana Hedgecock states “the kids are more focused when they come in.  They (teachers) feel that they’re getting more information in to the students…it’s helping other people communicate and talk to other people and meet new friends.”  (kark.com, 11-5-18)

Things to know about school recess:  fewer than 1 in 3 American children get enough exercise every week, which leads to obesity and other health problems down the road, taking away recess as a punishment is on the decline-at least 11 states have laws which keep schools from withholding recess for disciplinary reasons, recess helps students’ physical health, social skills, and ability to learn.  (Education Week, 8-30-18)

American Academy of Pediatrics’ new clinical report: “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children”: to educate about the healing and protective powers of play.  Unstructured play has many developmental benefits:
problem solving skills, increased social skills (turn taking, listening, collaboration), empathy development, self-expression, working through fears/anxiety/stress, feelings identification, language development, bravery, creative thinking, assertiveness, coping with negative emotions.
(Psychology Today, Aug 22 2018)

In Fort Worth, TX, a new program provides recess 4 times a day, for 15 mins each time for kindergartners and first graders-the program is modeled after the Finnish system, which consistently ranks at or near the top in international educational rankings.  Similar programs will be starting in Texas, Oklahoma, and California.  Teachers in Fort Worth report a “huge transformation” in their students: less distracted, make more eye contact, tattle less, are way ahead of schedule.”  OSU pediatrician Dr. Bob Murray reports that children need regular breaks to be attentive, stay on task, and encode new information in their memory.  Brain imaging shows that kids learn better after a break for unstructured play and physical activity. (npr.org, 1-3-16)


Fort Worth, TX program is called LiiNK and was designed by kinesiologist Debbie Rhea of Texas Christian University.  “The key is unstructured play, which means kids are allowed to run, play, and make up their own games.”  The benefits of frequent recess include: increased attentional focus, improved academics, improved attendance, decreased behavioral diagnoses (ADHD, anxiety, anger), improved creativity and social skill development.  (returntonow.net, 11-21-17)


The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children: plays helps regulate the body’s stress response, promotes safe, stable, nurturing relationships, encourages the development of a number of competencies, inc. executive functioning skills, and improving life course trajectories.  Play is defined as “an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery.  Play is voluntary and often has no extrinsic goals; it is fun and often spontaneous.”  Play is important for 21st century skills inc. problem solving, collaboration, and creativity.  Play and learning are inextricably linked.  Outdoor play allows improvement in sensory integration skills: motor, cognitive, social, and linguistic domains.  Countries that offer more recess to young children see greater academic success.  Play and stress are closely linked.  High amounts of play are associated with low levels of cortisol (stress hormone)….play also activates norepinephrine, which facilitates learning at synapses and improves brain plasticity.  Play helps children cope with stress, such as life transitions.   
“Benefits of play are extensive and well-documented and include: improvements in executive functioning, language, early math skills, social development, peer relations, physical development and health, and enhanced sense of agency….play deprivation is associated with the increasing prevalence of ADHD.” Executive functioning-the process of how we learn over the content of what we learn has 3 dimensions: cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control and working memory…outdoor playtime has been associated with decreased BMI, play decreases stress, fatigue, injury, depression, increases range of motion, agility, coordination, balance, flexibility…children pay more attention to class lessons after free play at recess than they do after PE programs, which are more structured.”  Collaboration, negotiation, conflict resolution, self-advocacy, decision-making, a sense of agency, creativity, leadership, and increased physical activity are just some of the skills and benefits children gain thru play.  (Pediatrics, Sept. 2018)

The Association of School-Based Physical Activity and Academic Performance, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC): the recommended level of physical activity for children is at least 60 minutes daily, and time spent in recess appears to have a positive relationship with children’s attention, concentration, and on-task classroom behavior.  Increasing time dedicated to physical education may help,and does not appear to harm academic performance. Recess benefits academic behaviors, facilitates social development. Contributes to overall physical activity and associated health benefits.  There was no evidence that time spent in recess had a negative association with cognitive skills, attitudes, or academic behavior.  (US Dept Health and Human Services, CDC, July 2010)

The Crucial Role of Recess in School: Council on School Health: after recess, students are more attentive and better able to perform academically, recess helps young children to develop social skills that are otherwise not acquired in the more structured classroom environment, recess made children more attentive and productive in the classroom.  Through play at recess, children learn communication skills inc. negotiation, cooperation, sharing, problem solving… coping skills like perseverance and self-control…helps children manage stress.  The CDC and the US Dept. Of Agriculture support the concept of scheduling recess before lunch as part of a school’s wellness policy=less food waste, more time taken for lunch, and better behavior at lunch, which carried over into class in the afternoon.  Free play is a fundamental component of a child’s normal growth and development.  (Pediatrics, January 2013)

The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders: dramatic increases in anxiety and depression in children/adolescents over the past 5 decades. Anxiety and depression correlate significantly with people’s sense of control or lack of control over their own lives.  U.S. culture has shifted from intrinsically motivated to extrinsically motivated, as the traditional ways children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests and become competent in pursuit of their own goals has been drastically reduced (unstructured playtime).  “We are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring endeavors they would most love, and increasing the odds that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and other disorders.”  (Psychology Today, Jan 26, 2010)

Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children: Play, particularly active, unstructured, outdoor play, needs to be restored in children’s lives.  Benefits of play arise in 3 domains of child well-being: Attention (cognitive), social, and affect (emotional).  Play promotes emotional intelligence, which contributes to success in the workplace and is the foundation for success in intimate social relationships.  Play minimizes anxiety, depression, aggression, and sleep problems. (Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, January 2005)

SOURCES: PLAY/UNSTRUCTURED LEARNING RESEARCH

  • Education Matters: Extended Recess Pilot Program, www.kark.com, 11-5-18

  • The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children, Pediatrics, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Sept. 2018

  • 7 Things to Know about School Recess, Education Week, 7-17-18

  • New APP Report Recommends Prescription for Play, www.psychologytoday.com, 8-22-18

  • Texas School Beats ADHD by Tripling Recess Time, returntonow.net, 11-21-17

  • Turns out Monkey Bars and Kickball Might be Good for the Brain, www.npr, org, 1-3-16

  • The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance, U.S. Dept HHS, CDC, July 2010

  • The Crucial Role of Recess in School: Council on School Health, Pedatrics, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, January 2013

  • The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders, www.psychologytoday.com, 1-26-10

  • Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children, Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, jamanetwork.com, January 2005

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